President Rodrigo Duterte has instructed his customs chief to shoot dead anyone caught smuggling narcotics – just days after dozens of human rights groups urged the United Nations to investigate the killing of thousands of drug suspects in the Philippines since 2016.
During a televised meeting with his cabinet late Monday – a transcript of which was released on Tuesday – the president said he met with Rey Leonardo Guerrero, commissioner of the Bureau of Customs, and ordered him to “shape up” and not be manipulated by corrupt employees at his agency.
“I told him straight, drugs are still flowing inside the country through customs,” Duterte said in Tagalog, according to the transcript. “I’d like you to kill there. Anyway, I’ll back you up and you won’t get jailed. If it’s drugs, you shoot and kill. That’s the arrangement.”
The president gave the order after more than 60 human rights groups urged the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva last week to open an independent international investigation into thousands of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the Philippines during the four years since Duterte came to power.
The groups, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said that only an independent probe could hold violators accountable for the killings of more than 8,000 people allegedly by police and security personnel.
The Philippine national police, however, have put the death toll from the drug war at about 5,700, saying these were suspects who had fought arresting officers.
“The several dozen Philippine and international groups calling for an investigation into the Philippines is a remarkable show of solidarity that members of the U.N. Human Rights Council should not ignore,” said Laila Matar, deputy director of the Geneva office at Human Rights Watch.
“The extrajudicial killings and other severe rights abuses in the Philippines continue unabated, and the groups endorsing this letter are saying enough is enough.”
Duterte, 74, is currently facing two complaints for mass murder before The Hague-based International Criminal Court over the killings in his administration’s drug war.
Last year, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to approve a resolution calling for an investigation into the killings.
In June 2020, a year-long investigation by Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, found “near-total impunity” for perpetrators of extrajudicial killings that took place during the Duterte administration’s crackdown on illegal drugs.
“The campaign against illegal drugs is being carried out without due regard for the rule of law, due process and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs. The report finds that the killings have been widespread and systematic – and they are ongoing,” Bachelet said in releasing her report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra rejected the criticism as he delivered the government’s rebuttal to the U.N. report. He said the Southeast Asian country was a democracy where all opposing voices were heard.
“In the Philippine situation, where the option of righting every possible wrong evidently and vigorously exists, there is no reasonable basis to allege impunity or lack of accountability for human rights violations,” Guevarra said.